Simpson Scores Bittersweet Victory
The highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Those whose lives revolve around horses know that, chances are, they will experience both at some point.
Hillary Simpson did … in the span of just 48 hours.
On Nov. 28, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Simpson’s father, Leigh Schlusemeyer, died after a long battle with lung cancer. Schlusemeyer had been staying with Simpson, 32, and her husband, William, here in Southern Pines for the past five months, contemplating a permanent move from his home in Florida.
Just two days after her father’s death, Simpson was at the Carolina Horse Park to ride Pam Mahony’s 7-year-old warmblood gelding Two if by C in the inaugural five-bar competition, an invitation-only feature and highlight of the Thanksgiving Classic.
The 5-bar event, which attracted a throng of spectators, included many top local event and hunter/jumper riders. Simpson and “Petey” were the only pair to successfully clear the final element, which topped out at 5’3”.
Simpson, a decorated junior rider who recently returned to show jumping after being sidelined with a broken femur two years ago, was delighted with Petey’s performance in the 5-bar contest, which involved five fences set in a line. Traditionally the competition is run with six fences — or a 6-bar — but because of the ring size it was downgraded.
“I’ve only shown him twice, at the two big shows in Raleigh,” said Simpson, who became acquainted with Mahony over the summer. “I’d only worked with him two and a half months before those shows. He’s really coming along well. We weren’t sure what to expect of him.”
Simpson said Mahony was initially apprehensive about letting Petey compete in the 5-bar. “When Jane (Murray, the horse park director) called, Pam was a little bit hesitant,” Simpson said. “He had never jumped more than 4’3”. We schooled him to see how he’d be and he was fantastic.”
Simpson said she and Mahony had no expectations for Petey in the competition. “We knew he could do it physically,” Simpson said. “As far as mentally, we weren’t sure. But he was great.”
A full-time Southern Pines resident, Simpson spends much of the winter riding on the toney Wellington, Fla., show circuit. This summer, she traveled to Kentucky and Calgary for shows. She currently has no horses of her own.
“Right now, I’m just training and riding customers’ horses,” she said. “It’s easier that way, as much as I travel. I probably have six or seven in training … mostly jumpers, but one young horse who does hunters, too.”
Leigh Schlusemeyer was an avid horseman; Simpson’s mother, Christina Schlusemeyer, is a professional trainer. Simpson is grateful for the time she had with her father the last few months.
“He was just planning on staying for a while and seeing if he wanted to live here,” Simpson said. “After his cancer treatments, he never quite bounced back. But he had a great set-up here.”
Harold Chopping, of Southern Pines, riding Nanci Lindroth’s Sea King Gold, was second in the 5-bar competition. Chopping also collected first and second place in the $5,000 Mini Prix, riding Patent Pending (the winner) and Big Air (the runner-up).
Maryanne Charles went home with the top two placings in the Hunter Classic.
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